" Fun, and worth playing, but not any of what it could have been. "
Title: Gears of War by Microsoft
Format: Xbox 360 Horror Shooter
Reviewing Monkey: Dungapult
The Hype: I'm not even going to bother to pretend that you haven't heard of Gears of War. One of the most hyped games of all time, it's been touted as the Halo replacement, the greatest shooter of all time, and THE reason to own an Xbox 360. But can any game possibly live up to all that hype? Especially one that spent almost an extra year in development? Read on, my monkeys, and find out.
What This Monkey Thought...
Graphics: Without a doubt, Gears is not
only one of the prettiest games on the 360, it's one of the prettiest games
anywhere. The models are intricately detailed, the animations are smooth (for
the most part), and the cinematography is so reminiscent of the new "Saving
Private Ryan" grainy, overly-washed style that I kept expecting the camera to
shift past Tom Hanks with a shaking cup of coffee. It's a nice combination that
really works well and sells an atmosphere as much as it does a pretty picture.
Gears loses a half-point, however, for some of the laziest level design on the market. Though the battles are usually fought on a field that's all but crowded with crap you can duck and hid behind (which is a good thing we'll talk about in a second), the levels are all painfully restrictive. Much like fighting in a tunnel, Gears is so close to being a rail-shooter that it gets down right obscene sometimes (and, in fact, there are more honest rail levels than I've seen in years). I don't know why you would take the time to make such a lush, lavish game and then frame it in such a restrictive environment, but each and ever piece of the game takes place on maps not much wider than my living room. 4.5 out of 5
Playability: At it's heart, Gears is really
just another shooter. You have the same basic selection of guns, the same straightforward
gameplay, and the same arcadey damage models. As you play you will run head
long through level after level of generic baddies, unloading magazine after
magazine into their apparently difficult to penetrate hides, mostly stopping
only long enough to rest after you've taken an unacceptable amount of damage
and want to heal.
What makes Gears different, however, is it's use of context sensitive cover interactions. As I said before, the battlefields are absolutely loaded with debris, from rubble to wrecked cars to jersey barriers, that you can take cover behind. To do that all you have to do is get close, tap the A button, and watch your archon slide into safety with a satisfying thump as his shoulder hits the wall. Once there, you can do a number of really cool things, including peak up from around either the top or side to get some well-defended sniping in, shoot blindly by exposing only your gun, or…and what really makes this revolutionary…move from cover in equally context-sensitive commands. This lets you move from cover to cover, dive out from behind your protection with a difficult-to-target roll, or vault over the top of whatever you're hiding behind and charge head-long into the enemy.
It's a really cool combination of maneuvers that is both effective and intuitive. After only about a half-hour's worth of learning curve you'll be diving behind rocks, blindly firing to suppress the enemy, and then rolling out for a classic flanking maneuver…and you'll be loving every second of it.
The problem, then, comes when this really cool tactical style of play butts head-first into the really generic style of action-shooting. With a damage model that closely resembles Quake or Doom and slopping aiming reticules a la Halo, the actual assaulting that takes place after your clever maneuvering is quite a bit of a let down. There's just something wrong with performing a fire and maneuver, working from position of cover to position of cover, getting the flank shot, and then having to shoot the enemy in the ass four hundred and forty seven times before he dies. It takes the tactical flair right out of the equation and immediately makes you wonder why you didn't just charge head-long at him in the first place.
Now, some of that disappointment can be allayed by closing into hand-to-hand and cutting the guy in half with your chainsaw bayonet (yes, Warhammer fans, it's finally caught on), but the lack of animations let this very hot attack cool down after a few dozen uses. 4 out of 5
Story and Drama: There's only one thing
more disappointing than having no story in a game; having a potentially interesting
but horribly underdeveloped story. Ripe with possibilities, the game begins
long after a subterranean race called The Locusts has mostly conquered the planet,
when your character Marcus is broken out of prison to return to service of the
military that court marshaled him. Labeled a traitor by a number of men in your
unit, you must overcome your mysterious past to regain their trust. Or so your
led to believe. In the end it won't really matter because NONE of it is ever
developed, or even addressed. The game never talks about what it is you did
to wind up in jail, why it was heinous enough that you were abandoned to the
Locusts, or what you can do to regain your cohort's trust. It also never explains
who or what the Locust might be, why they suddenly attacked the planet, or any
of what's happened between then and now.
But, worst of all, there's a scene late in the game where you discover that your father might, and probably was, directly or indirectly responsible for the entire war…but don't worry, you'll never find out why or have it addressed. Instead it will be treated like a pile of dung on a frat house kitchen floor. It sure seems bad, and everyone agrees that it's a problem, but nobody seems to care enough to figure out where it came from or to do anything about it.
In the end it's so half-assed and random that it falls on-par with some of the nonsensical snippets you get in Japanese fighting games. 1 out of 5
Multiplayer and Replayability: Though
fun, the single player campaign in Gears may set a new record for the shortest
play-through in history. Hovering around five hours (depending on how often
you die and have to replay areas) it feels more like a Handy-Snack than a meal
and will invariably lead to a anguished cry of "That's it?!?" when it ends.
That's especially frustrating in light of the multiplayer, which, while sporting some cool team-elimination style games, is so lacking it's comical. While undeniably entertaining, there are only a handful of modes, all of which play essentially the same, and have such limited options that the whole affair feels like the game was rushed out the door…even though it was shipped a year late. It does earn major kudos, however, for the presence of two player co-op! 3.5 out of 5
|For those who were concerned that Halo may finally get dethroned as the best console shooter of all time, fear not…the king is well and truly safe. While fun, and innovative in some really cool ways, in the end Gears of War is one of those games that nobody will be talking about three months from now.|
The Good: Unbelievably pretty and featuring some really cool context-sensitive functions.
The Bad: So short it should be criminal, so badly written that it's laughable, and so underdeveloped that it's incomprehensible.
The Overall Ugly: Fun, and worth playing, but not any of what it could have been.
What it's Worth: Rental. Trust me. You'll have it beat before you need to take your first break to pee.